A question I have never seemed to have to wrestle with until lately. I mean, I made it through my son’s brain surgery. When you have survived something like that, you tend to get a little arrogant I suppose. But, why then, am I not strong enough now? For this. After all this time, what finally brought me to the breaking point, where no matter what I tried to do to get control of my feelings and the circumstances around me, I just didn’t seem to be strong enough. Many things. For starters, the cumulative effect of years of being “the strong one.”
I have frequently regarded myself as “strong.” However, recent scenarios have forced me into facing how strong I am not. All the while, my pride taunted me with the thought that I needed to be strong enough to make it through this. It reminded me that I had to prove to myself , and others, that I could handle it all on my own, completely, with the exception of some random delegated tasks here and there. (Only because hey, I can acknowledge I’m not Superwoman). But, I realized, the days of being strong in my own power were gone. I was going to need help to get through this. And maybe that realization was the best thing that could have happened in the midst of the struggle.
So, what is strength, and who sets the guidelines for this concept in relation to mothering, marriage, and life in general? The world views strength by the following standards: Hold it together. Smile. Put your best outer appearance on, in any type of situation. Do this, whether or not you actually do have it together, and ESPECIALLY when you don’t. This type of strength places a heavy-laden burden, one too heavy to bear if we are honest. This type of strength will eventually break you with its weight. Maintaining the façade, on top of what you are already going through will be the end of you, if you don’t realize in time. And sometimes the façade I’ve tried to hold up, even included lying to myself. Holding everything together in all areas at all times, is just not possible. But why do we think we should? There has to be a better way.
In the past year, I have spent hours on end crying in my car. I have cried after many of my son’s doctor’s appointments, daily after dropping him off at his special needs preschool class because it didn’t feel like the right fit for him, through the meetings to figure out the right services for him, as well as after leaving several family gatherings that seemed like total disasters due to my son’s autistic meltdowns and rigidity. Then, I would spend hours crying over the thought, “why can’t I keep myself together… why am I not strong enough?” I had convinced myself that this inability made me a certain failure.
The answer is actually simple. It didn’t take hours of crying to figure out. It is because it actually was too much to handle. Emotionally, physically, practically. Especially, when I hadn’t even really dealt with the wounds of the last few years (son’s surgery/diagnoses/behaviors/major life changes in our family). I had been trying to manage 33 hours of therapies for my son, while working, and trying my darnedest to be what my older son needed, be a good wife, and all the other things the life entailed. Something was going to break somewhere. I was going to break, day in and day out, again and again, as long as I was going to keep acting like I had to be strong enough to do this all on my own. I kept telling myself that I had to be everything that everybody needed. Go figure. The irony in the thought that I can be broken and crazy, but still effectively maintain my family’s health. Something had to give.
Why at the end of the day did I always feel like I hadn’t done enough? Because I didn’t for the impossible goals I had set. Why am I not strong enough for this? Because to get through this, I was going to have to accept that breaking down was part of this. Sometimes you have to break to find your strength in a different area, outside of your old comfort zone. You have to break where you are weak, to grow. You have to break to ask for help. You need to ask for help. There is this social and cultural expectation that moms are strong enough for everything the kids go through and need. But, it’s a fantasy. Moms are simply placed in a situation and do their best to survive, especially when it comes to special-needs parenting. I remember when I was in the hospital with Lucas the night before his brain surgery. We didn’t know if his behavior was him having a seizure or something else, but we knew that when he had his brain surgery, it was supposed to help everything get better. As I sat there in the hospital room with him, freezing from that hospital arctic AC, his little body lied with his cheek on my lap. The only place where he was truly at peace and happy while we awaited the next morning in this strange place. I mustered all my strength to be everything this tiny little boy needed, but, while he lied they’re asleep on my lap I let the tears just fall. While he was asleep, he wouldn’t see me breaking. I could be strong for him again when he woke up. We would survive this after I finished crying. Right as the tears started flooding, a hospital staff member opened up the door, and she saw me crying. She gave me a look mixed between sympathy and criticism. And she said, “Mama, you got to be strong for him.” And I gave her a look that indicated: give me this moment while he doesn’t know how not strong I am to get through it, so I can hide it again behind a smile by the time he wakes up. And she gave me a look right back of “I get it.” And maybe in that moment she gave me an unhealthy confirmation that being strong was something that was demanded of me, that I must not allow myself to be weak. But the truth is, I’m not strong. I’ve learned that time and time again through this journey, and that is OK. I’d rather be honest, and stop trying to pretend I am something I am not.
I’ve found that in my weakest moments, God brought people into my life to fill the gap where I was lacking. This is what got me through to this point where I can accept that I am not strong enough. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had guidance from some very special people that I would’ve never interacted with in a meaningful capacity otherwise.
Maybe, I’m not as strong as I thought. Maybe, there is healing in that. Maybe, as much as I needed to accept who my son really is, I need to do the same for myself. Let’s give ourselves permission not to kill ourselves trying to meet unrealistic expectations of being “strong” all the time. I have to continue learning to stop trying to convince myself that I am strong enough or that I have to be strong enough. There is beauty in this. Not being strong enough allows room for the Lord’s grace. It makes room for friends and family to find their way in, room for me to see that the strength I’ve been chasing is not all it’s cracked up to be. In His grace, I can see, that even on the days I’m not strong, it’s OK to be honest and loving with myself and start a fresh day tomorrow. How about, instead of trying to be strong all the time, we can be content with ,and nonjudgmental about, just being human.